Living 90-miles from my beloved Dungeness means that I cannot really treat it as 'my patch'. True, I could get up at cuckoo's fart each morning and arrive for a dawn start, but that is not a realistic option on many levels. The drive to Dungeness can be painful due to heavy traffic on the M25, 26, 20 and increasingly at the point itself. I struggle to recall the days when a bank holiday weekend meant no more than an extra ten minutes on the journey and a couple more people staring at the lighthouses. Today you might as well resign yourself to forging a close relationship with the flora of the motorway central reservations and hard shoulders as you crawl along to the fumes of trucks heading to (and from) Dover. And, according to the sensible people, Brexit will only make this scenario worse.
Where else to get my 'proper' birding fix? Rye Harbour is a great reserve, a pleasant drive (via the A21 and Hawkhurst) but is still a 90-minute drive if all of the traffic and roads are behaving themselves. Pagham Harbour? An old stomping ground of mine but increasingly blighted by traffic hold ups near Chichester and down to Selsey, and further in miles and time than Rye. Closer to home is Pulborough Brooks, the closest to an inland sea you will get away from the man-made concrete monstrosity of Staines Reservoir - and don't even suggest that I ought to throw in my lot with that place! Admittedly I have seen some good birds there, but it is like birding at a flooded multi-storey car park. No, not for me, and no, it's not in f***ing Surrey. Pulborough is more of an option but, in reality is 'coastal-lite', decaffinated birding with the sugar and salt removed. But still full-fat compared to where I do end up.
So I plough a (virtually) lonely furrow here on the North Downs scarp. It has its moments, but not as many as I'd like. What would be great is to walk out with a realistic chance of bumping into a Rose-coloured Starling. Or finding a singing Marsh Warbler. Not scraping by on a diet of Wheatears, Whinchats and the outside chance of a Spotted Flycatcher. So I check Twitter, reading about the exploits of those I follow primarily in Kent and Sussex. Through gritted teeth I feel pleased for them as Great Reed Warblers, Pallid Harriers and memorable sea watches are relayed to me via 140 or 280 characters. It can galvanise me into getting out in an attempt to join in with the party. At other times it is nothing but crushing. It could be worse, but I'm starting to struggle to think of a more disadvantaged part of the country to bird in.
Answers on a postcard...